In 1754/55 General Braddock with his young subordinate George Washington began the construction of a road through the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania. Its purpose was to allow the movement of troops, artillery and supplies into the area that was disputed with the French around the area of Fort Duquesne. (Present day Pittsburgh.) This road would later become the basis for the new National Road that was coming through from Baltimore.
In 1806 the Federal Government authorized the national Highway. Construction began in 1811 and by 1818 it had reached Wheeling Virginia. It continued out as far as Vandalia Ill. Congress was no longer willing to appropriate funds so it became up to the states to continue and maintain the road.
The major impact of the National Road was that it opened up the Ohio Valley and the west to settlement. For over forty years this was the main route that wagons and settlers used to get from the east coast into the newly opened territories. A Conestoga wagon could expect to travel up to 15 miles a day and a stage about 4 times faster. Thousands of people followed the national road and along the way major cities sprang up.
In the 1850s the railroad reached Pittsburgh and this led to the decline of travel along the road. It took the advent of the motor car to bring about a revival of travel along the national road. When the highway system was establish the new route 40 was given a route that followed quite closely the old National Road. Depending on what your age is traveling route 40 will bring back childhood memories, I know it did for me. This road meanders through bucolic towns and over hills and dales, and if you are in a hurry it’s the last road you want to be on. It was a really nice change from speeding along on the Interstate.
In Pennsylvania you can find one of the original tollbooths as well as road mile markers. Inns were a vital part of the National Road in it’s heyday and you can still visit some of these Inns today both to eat and to sleep. We ate dinner at the Century Inn in Scenic Hill which began its life as Hill’s Tavern.
Traveling west before you reach scenic hill you will pass the Madonna of the Trails, a monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor of the women who followed the trails west.
Driving the Lincoln Highway (route 30) was quite an experience. For the most part it goes through a very rural part of Pennsylvania. What took us by surprise were the mountains we had to go over during our drive. It was as green and mountainous as some parts of Vermont, and there were a couple of sections of hair raising turns and excessively steep road. Be prepared for quite a ride.